Richard North, 07/09/2004  

Just to show how well the new boys and girls are settling in, here is a quick round-up of some of the activities we know of.

Siim Kallas, a former Estonian Prime Minister, Commissioner-designate for administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud, Vice-President and a man who is politely described by the European Voice as being a controversial nominee, will be questioned by the European Parliament Budgetary Committee about allegations of misappropriation of funds equal to €8 million when he was Governor of the Bank of Estonia in 1991-95.

Mr Kallas was actually exonerated by a court in 2000 but the MEPs, scenting a tiny bit of power and led by the Chairman of the Budgetary Committee, the Hungarian Socialist Szabolcs Fazakas, are determined to show that it takes the responsibility of looking after the EU’s money (well, that is what they think) seriously.

The Commissioners will be questioned by various committees between September 27 and October 7 but individual Commissioners cannot be rejected. The entire Commission will be voted on during the plenary on October 25 – 28. It is not even worth opening a book on the outcome. A democracy can be unpredictable but the European Parliament never.

Meanwhile, the equally controversial Ingrida Udre of Latvia is involved in the ongoing row about supposed illegal donations to her party in parliament. The Greens and the Farmers’ Union, which Ms Udre leads, have gone to court to to contest the allegations advanced by the national corruption prevention bureau. (What a lovely idea. I wonder if it will catch on in Brussels.)

She has also been accused of having links with the oil magnate Aivars Lembergs and of lobbying on Lembergs’ behalf.

We have already written about the shenanigans that surrounded the choice of Ms Udre as Commissioner. Other East European countries have also had some difficulty in choosing their first representative on the European Commisison.

Hungary had sent one Commissioner, Péter Balázs, in May. In early August, however, as the sorry saga of Prime Minister Medgyessy’s last days in office unfolded, an announcement was made, that Balázs was being brought back and, instead, the Foreign Minister László Kovács would be sent. The opposition FIDESZ party immediately accused the Prime Minister of using the Commission appointment to get rid of someone for purely domestic reasons. A disagreement in the party was being alleged. Tut-tut.

All change, as far as the Czech Republic is concerned, as we have noted before. This time the reason for the new Commissioner is clear: the new Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross, was giving his predecessor, Vladimir Spidla a lucrative consolation prize.

Being “part of Europe” can be quite fun, really, and certainly rewarding.

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